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Eaton, George Burnett (1886–1954)

by Connie Healy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

George Burnett Eaton (1886-1954), teacher, actor and producer, was born on 8 November 1886 at Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, third child of William Eaton, master mariner, and his wife Isabella, née Walker. Soon after, William migrated to Australia. Isabella and their children followed him, reaching Brisbane in the Jumna in December 1889. A fourth child was born in 1891. Educated in Brisbane, on 1 March 1901 George became a pupil-teacher at West End Boys' School. He taught at Brisbane South School for Boys, from 1910 at Kelvin Grove Road Boys' School and from 1911 at Taringa. Described as 5 ft 5¼ ins (165.7 cm) tall, with ruddy complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 September 1915, served with the 1st Australian Field Ambulance in France, and was promoted corporal. He was discharged on 9 March 1920.

Back in Brisbane, on 12 July Eaton was appointed to the Central Technical College, where he taught languages. On 20 December 1930 at the Methodist Church, Torwood, he married Kathleen Ada Elledge, a London-born dressmaker. That year he had been transferred to the Industrial High School, where he became officer-in-charge in 1945 and principal in 1947, receiving awards for excellence in teaching in 1948 and 1950. He introduced special classes for students and organized a timetable adapted to the abilities of the less able pupils, whose parents mended his 1928 Whippet motorcar in gratitude. Eaton retired on 31 December 1952.

His military experiences had given Eaton an implacable hatred of war and his sojourn in France set him on the path of internationalism. Gregarious, egalitarian and a bit of a show-off, with a firm streak of moral rectitude, he claimed to be an agnostic. He taught singing and gave recitals, often entertained visiting ballet companies, including the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and Borovansky's, and organized social gatherings in their honour in his house, Segovia. Fluent in French and active in the Civil Liberties League, he taught English to Russian emigrés through a French interpreter.

From its inception in 1929 until 1941, Eaton produced and acted in plays for the Workers' Educational Association dramatic society, coached many of its actors and was a play adjudicator. Described by John Manifold as a brilliant conversationalist, he was well read and forward thinking; this was reflected in the dramatic society's repertoire, which included works by Sean O'Casey, Elmer Rice and Eugene O'Neill. Eaton made many friends in the theatrical and artistic world, such as Vance and Nettie Palmer. Both were interested in presenting Australian drama on stage and Vance acted as adjudicator in the 1932 one-act play competition organized by the W.E.A. Eaton's diverse interests included writing radio programmes for children; in the 1940s and 1950s he became the voice of 'Dr Day' who gave advice on medical problems and hygiene.

In 1953 Eaton went to England in the Orcades for an extended holiday. He died of myocardial infarction on 8 August 1954 at a private hospital in South Brisbane and was cremated with Methodist forms. His wife and two sons survived him. Mel Haysom reputedly painted his portrait but its whereabouts is unknown.

Select Bibliography

  • Connie Healy, Defiance (Brisb, 2000)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 Aug 1954, p 6
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Connie Healy, 'Eaton, George Burnett (1886–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eaton-george-burnett-12899/text23281, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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